Snapshot: Temporal Culture Clash (The Rolling Girls)

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Author’s note: My subconscious had an affair with Kyoto via nostalgia appropriated from Japanese fiction. Take everything hereafter with a huge grain of salt and enjoy the speculation.

Over the course of two episodes, "Give Me the Stars" (Episode 7) and "After the Rain" (Episode 8), The Rolling Girls layers internal character and interpersonal group conflicts and then interweaves them to 1) represent Japan’s identity crisis and 2) offer a bit of optimism by way of anime’s most grandiose culture festival concert set yet.

Not to bring up the most obvious comparison in the whole nomadic-girls-with-motorcycles genre, but The Rolling Girls is at its best when it’s Kino’s Journey. That’s to say episodes focusing on a town’s or resident’s essence/conflict are infinitely more enjoyable than those focusing on any aspect of the outsiders themselves. It’s this insular focus, largely applied in Episodes 8 and 9, that enables the implication of a greater cultural identity crisis narrative as well as the finale’s emotional punch.

To start, the anime take place in a future post-war power vacuum which resulted in Japan splitting up into its original 10 prefectures. Each of these is represented by at least one Best—a vigilante who gains superhuman capabilities by possessing a particular kind of heart-shaped jewel—who helps resolve disputes. Episodes 8 and 9 take place in Kyoto, which was Japan’s capital city until 1869 in real life and considered by many to be the center of Japanese culture and learning. The prefecture gets the title of “The holy land of rock” in The Rolling Girls, however, due to its recent renown as a concert festival destination.

There are two Bests who manage the entire territory together with an acknowledged, unspoken agreement. Mamechiyo is part of “Maikos, We Are,” a group of geishas-in-training that protect the public peace of the general city and surrounding areas. She and her group represent history and culture—the old ways. The Kamogawa Rockers, headed by their captain Misa (a guitar player and vocalist), operate and police the huge concerts held at the old temples. She and her group represent a culture of youth fawning over and adopting foreign culture. (Japan, like the USA, has an extended history of such syncretism.) So immediately there is one group dedicated to protecting tradition and another dedicated to assimilation.

The two captains do not get along even though they once played guitars together with such strength of friendship as to summon a power stone, which they split in two (thus becoming Bests). Misa refuses to speak to Mamechiyo, who is said to have a history of “weird harassment” (stalking), and Mamechiyo is carrying, unbeknownst to Misa, a grudge. The latter is emotional baggage stemming from Misa’s success at a music competition and her subsequent shunning of Chiyo. So here is a personal division paralleling the group division noted above. For a generational twist on the same theme, you could easily apply the mantle of Old Japan to Chiyo’s mother.

On the day of the divisional concert, Chiyo’s mother steps in to ward Misa off of distracting Chiyo from her geisha studies (fan dancing, shamisen playing, etc.). This happens when Chiyo is not around to protest, and Misa backs off entirely (thus her constant snubbing). Old Japan (mom) does not want formative Present Day Japan (Chiyo) to be tainted with pop culture (Misa) … at least not until the old culture is thoroughly embedded (and by then, dominant). But the Bests and their blood relations are not all that’s instrumental to the emotional punch of the finale.

The titular traveling troupe of Best substitutes—none have special powers but are fulfilling requests for their injured Best—comes to Kyoto to save a concert, the “Kiyomizu Temple Rock Explosion” (even the name of the concert is syncretic; the show makes a point of having one of the rolling girls struggle with the pronunciation of the English). The big draw to said concert? The Momiage Hammers, an old and beloved rock band that lost its lead singer over eccentric differences, will be playing together again with local favorite Misa filling is as their lead singer. This is where things start to turn from restrictive to inclusive as old is blended with new in a positive, non-divisive context. After all, the syncretic name of the concert would instantly be divisive to traditionalists.

Misa practices with The Momiage Hammers, and all seems well. Misa turns out to be the life-blood the band needs to reach a younger generation, and practice sessions go great. (A parallel fourth-wall breaking layer in this is that The Rolling Girls voice actresses cover the songs of an ‘80s punk band, The Blue Hearts, exposing younger anime viewers to older punk rock.) But come time for the final concert, Misa’s without her Halved heart stone she uses as a guitar pick and freezes on stage despite an earlier tender scene where one of the Momiage Hammers sympathizes and lends her his pick. As opposed to the older generation trying to push pop culture away, as is the case with Chiyo’s mother and Misa, this sympatheic gesture shows a member of the older generation trying to help someone younger with compassion instead of regulation.

And finally there’s Doji Shuten. He’s under orders to “make things interesting” so Chiyo can have an excuse to come to the aid of her former friend and current co-Best. Shuten is modern Japan and represents the chaos of culture clash; he turns a temple-full of Buddha statues into launch-able missiles (taboo of treading on/messing with holy ground) but is presented as more Puck-ish for doing so, always wears more classic garb, and refuses to let anyone be put in real harms way. On top of his technical prowess, there’s something very anime about him in the final segment, which again points towards pop culture.

All of this, all of these characters and all of these issues, are resolved — via glances, punches, artillery laser light shows, duets, and more — in the final four minutes comprising the big, Misa-led Momiage Hammers set. It’s the younger generation literally blowing tradition out of the sky and showing backbone by bellowing at the iceberg before the boat while barreling ahead full throttle. It’s the older generation recognizing if not respecting that strength of character and fortitude and granting a nod of acceptance. It's this month's (make-up for last month's missing) Snapshot. But, mostly, it’s a party, and EVERYONE is invited.


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Poetry in Zenkaikon and CPAC: Ink's Madcap, 3-Day, 2-Con Weekend Extravaganza

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Never mind the ides of March, the end of March is going to be Brutus brutal(ly awesome). Although I accidentally ended up attending Animania! earlier this month, Zenkaikon and Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) mark my first official con destinations of 2015. They're taking place on the same weekend, and I'll be presenting at both! After the break, check out what I'll be presenting, with whom, and what panels I'm aiming to attend. Otherwise, I hope to see some of you Ani-Gamers reader [sic] around the con(s) and hope you check out both con reports!

Like its subject, my panel needs a little room to breathe. I've only presented condensed versions of it until now, which is why I'm excited to say that both cons are giving "Poetry in Anime: the Power of Words in a Visual Medium" a 90-minute time slot (with ample empty-room time afterwards for questions, comments, and shenanigans). There's been a lot of tightening and additions since this panel's AnimeNEXT debut, so come on by and take in the director's cut!

Live 6: Saturday, 6:00–7:30 pm

Panels 7: Sunday, 2:00–3:30 pm

Also at CPAC, I'll be joining Vincenzo Averello of All Geeks Considered for "The Con is Alive with the Sound of Anime!" from 12:30–1:30 pm in Panels 2. This panel was born of passion for diverse anime titles focused on music or which use music as a core device. Between Vincenzo's tastes and my own, we've got a lot of surprises in store and a ton of recommendations to give.

Speaking of recommendations, here's what I'm looking forward to (for one reason or another) panel-wise:

Opening Ceremonies
Real Robots: Crushing Your Misconceptions
AMV Showdown
The Plus Side of Cosplay
Edo Tsunami Kanzashi Workshop
Pop-Culture Paganism and Anime (with a Dash of Shinto?)
Tail Making with Mermaid Yemaya
Conversation Parade: Let’s Talk Adventure Time
‘They Used Hot Melted Sugar!’: Dramatic Readings of Weird Fan Fiction
“The Manly Battleships” Big Damn Panel of Sheer Manliness
The Metal ‘n’ Anime Connection

Hidden Gems of Manga
Shinto Elements in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki
Convention and Cosplay Etiquette: Uncensored Edition
Historical and Legendary Heroes of Japan – or who is Minamoto no Yorimitsu anyway?
Magical Girl Bootcamp
The Politics of Bravely Default
Back in My Day: Conventions and Cosplay Then and Now
Poetry in Anime: the Power of Words in a Visual Medium
Even more Awesome Animation Not from Japan
Strong Female Characters in Fiction
Anime Openings Through the Decades
Super Awesome Happy Fun AMV Time!
Violent Japanimations From Japan: The Best Hyperviolent OVAs That You Should Be Watching

Good Morning Castle Point
The Importance of Representation in Media
70s Anime Funtime
The Con is Alive with the Sound of Anime!
Poetry in Anime: the Power of Words in a Visual Medium
Psychology of Anime
The Great Debates

Panels I won't be able to attend but HIGHLY recommend checking out:
Insight Into the Manga Industry With Yen Press Editor (presented by Justin Stroman)
The Play's the Thing: Shakespeare in Anime and Manga (presented by Robert J Gannon)

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Squees and Moans: Taiiku Podcast tags Ink to help tackle Wanna Be the Strongest (and Short Peace)

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Once upon a time, Kory Cerjak, host of the sports anime-centric Taiiku Podcast, had a horrible idea. He decided to review the wrestling anime Wanna Be the Strongest in the World. But he wasn't willing to do it alone. Oh no. Since misery loves company (or is it because cowardice loves deflection?), Kory decided to drag wrestling aficionado Patz, notorious anime hater Tony, and me into the mix. Why me? (You simply cannot conceive of how many times I asked myself that same question while watching Strongest.) Well, by way of apology or pity for his choice of features, Kory also wanted to talk about a favorite of mine: Short Peace. Despite the HIGH price of admission, I, like everyone else, gave in (or rather gave up) and had a grand time for doing so. Screw the whole "best Love Live" debate, grow your appreciation of good anime by listening to us argue best Short Peace and then laugh your jaws off while counting how many times Patz swears uncontrollably while talking about Stongest.

Taiiku Podcast Episode #5

For more, check out Ink's Short Peace review on Fandom Post and his Snapshot about the intro.

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Snapshot: Synchronicity (Kokoro Connect)

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Match cuts, a clever editing trick taken advantage of by surprisingly few directors (probably due to the difficulty of planning them out and how conspicuous they can be), were a favorite of anime director Satoshi Kon, who would often move between scenes using a single connecting element — be it an image or a sound. These cuts can show up in some pretty unexpected places though. As an example, I give you the first few moments of Kokoro Connect episode 1.

The show opens on a fairly typical modern anime scene: a teenage boy waking up to the voice of his little sister. As he swings his feet out from under the covers, however, we cut to a different room and a different set of feet. Now we're watching a girl waking up. When she turns to talk to her little sister, we move to another house, where a girl walks through a doorway and into the dining room. She sips some tea and places it back on the table. Now the mug belongs to a boy who's eating with his family. When he runs out the door, we move to a girl leaving the house and bickering with her brother. Finally, as she slams the door shut, one of the girls from before slaps one of the boys on the back on their way to school. All five character meet up at the school gate and step through it in unison. Their experiences parallel each other and bring them together for this single moment. It's a subtle touch that establishes the connections between the characters that will drive the body-swapping antics of the series to come.

But what makes Kokoro Connect's opening sequence so smart isn't just the use of match cuts. It's the way it tells a single story by weaving through multiple characters, as if to say that these people aren't just islands of individuality but a unit greater than the sum of its parts. Looked at as a whole, the scene is the story of one teenager waking up and going to school, but each segment of the process — getting out of bed, eating breakfast, leaving the house — is performed by a different character. This lends the whole scene a feeling of inertia and makes it all the more impactful when the five actors finally appear on stage together, ready to start the show.

Kokoro Connect is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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My (Featured!) Panels at Genericon XXVIII This Weekend

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It's been two years now since I headed up college con Genericon as convention chair, and they've been doing a pretty great job back at RPI since then. As I did last year, I'll be flying back to attend Genericon XXVIII, though this time I'm not just a panelist — I'm a featured panelist. This means that the con has made the mistake of featuring me in the conbook and, more importantly, I'm running FIVE panels. Big thanks go out to Amy and the rest of the staff for hooking me up with this awesome opportunity! I've listed all of my panels in easy bullet-point form after the break:

  • The Rise of CG Anime – history of computer graphics in anime – 6pm Friday in Panel 1
  • How Anime Gets Made – anime production process – 7pm Friday in Panel 1
  • The Changing Faces of Anime – history of anime/manga character designs – 9am Saturday in Panel 1
  • Crunchyroll Industry Panel – Buy Crunchyroll ProductsTM – 12 noon Saturday in Main Events A
  • The Beautiful Backgrounds of Anime – anime background art overview – 9am Sunday in Main Events A

Most of these are either premiering at Genericon or greatly updated since the last time I ran them, so if you're at the con this weekend, please stop by!

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